Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great

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Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great
دير الأنبا مقار
Macarius Kloster BW 1.jpg
The church tower at St Macarius' Monastery
Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great is located in Egypt
Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great
Location within Egypt
Monastery information
Other names Deir Abu Makar
Established 360
Dedicated to Saint Macarius the Great
Diocese Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
People
Founder(s) Saint Macarius the Great
Important associated figures Saint Arsenius
Saint Isidore
Saint Cyril of Alexandria
Saint John the Dwarf
Saint Macarius of Alexandria
Saint Macarius the Bishop
Saint Moses the Black
Saint Paphnutius
Saint Poemen
Saint Serapion
Site
Location Wadi El Natrun
Country  Egypt
Coordinates 30°17′29″N 30°28′34″E / 30.29139°N 30.47611°E / 30.29139; 30.47611
Public access Yes

The Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great also known as Dayr Abū Maqār (Arabic: دير الأنبا مقار‎) is a Coptic Orthodox monastery located in Wadi El Natrun, Beheira Governorate, about 92 km north west of Cairo, and off the highway between Cairo and Alexandria.

Ancient history

The monastery was founded in approximately 360 AD by Saint Macarius of Egypt, who was the spiritual father to more than 4,000 monks of different nationalities. The monastery has been continuously inhabited by monks since its 4th century foundation. Several Christian saints and fathers of the early Church were monks at the Monastery of Saint Macarius, including Saint Macarius of Alexandria, Saint John the Dwarf, Saint Paphnutius the Ascetic, Saint Isidore, Saint Arsenius, Saint Moses the Black, Saint Poemen, Saint Serapion among others.

Modern history

In 1969, the monastery entered an era of restoration, both spiritually and architecturally, with the arrival of twelve monks under the spiritual leadership of Father Matta El Meskeen. These monks had spent the previous ten years living together entirely isolated from the world, in the desert caves of Wadi El Rayyan, about 50 kilometres south of Fayoum.

Pope Cyril VI ordered this group of monks to leave Wadi El Rayyan and go to the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great to restore it. At that time only six aged monks were living in the monastery and its historic buildings were on the verge of collapsing. The new monks were received by the abbot of the monastery, Bishop Michael, Metropolitan of Assiut.

Under Pope Shenouda III, who was himself busily engaged in restoring the Monastery of Saint Pishoy and the Paromeos Monastery, and after fourteen years of constant activity both in reconstruction and spiritual renewal, the monastic community in the Monastery of Saint Macarius numbers about one hundred monks.

The Monastery of Saint Macarius maintains spiritual, academic and fraternal links with several monasteries abroad, including the monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium, Solesmes Abbey and the Monastery of the Transfiguration in France, Bose Monastic Community in Italy, Deir El Harf in Lebanon, and the Convent of the Incarnation in England.

The Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great contains the relics of many saints, such as the Forty Nine Elder Martyrs of Scetes.

Public closure

Following the murder of the former abbot Epiphanius (see below) it was announced that until the situation has been resolved (e.g. conclusion of the criminal proceedings etc) the monastery would be closed to general members of the public. Civilian families of monks as well as workers would continue to be able to visit.[1] There are also security forces present outside the walls of the monastery.[2]

Discovery of relics

During the restoration of the big Church of Saint Macarius, the crypt of Saint John the Baptist and that of Elisha the Prophet were discovered below the northern wall of the church, in accordance with the site mentioned in manuscripts from the 11th and 16th centuries found in the library of the monastery. This is also confirmed by the ecclesiastical tradition of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The relics were gathered in a special reliquary and placed before the sanctuary of Saint John the Baptist in the church of Saint Macarius. A detailed account of this discovery and an assessment of the authenticity of the relics was published by the monastery.

Popes from the Monastery of St. Macarius

This table is a listing of the Popes of the Coptic Orthodox Church that were from the Monastery of St. Macarius.

Former abbot

As of 2013 Anba Epiphanius, who had been a member of the brotherhood since 1984, ordained priest in 2002[3] was appointed as the bishop and abbot of the Monastery of St. Macarius who was aged 68 when he died in 2018.[4]

The Coptic Church published a statement to say that Pope Tawadros “mourned in Anba Epiphanius a true monk whose life was steeped in meekness and humbleness; also a scholar who possessed a wealth of knowledge that fruited research and publications in various branches of ecclesiastical studies. The Pope prayed for peace for his soul, and comfort for the St Macarius monk assembly as well as all who loved the late Abbot [...] He was simple in his clothes, his house and his food. Bishop Epiphanius was very simple and he preferred to sit in the last rows,".[5][6]

Pope Tawadros would also consult the abbot due to his extensive knowledge and authorship. The abbot had attended 20 conferences in five years with the Pope's blessing.[7]

Discovery of abbot's death

On Monday, 30 July 2018 it was announced that the abbot had reposed under "strange circumstances" and that this was being investigated by the police for murder.[8] When the abbot's body was discovered (at dawn of Sunday, 29 July 2018 ) in one of the corridors of the monastery (somewhere between his monastic cell and the monastery church) it was thought to show signs of having been delivered a physical blow. The body was lying in a pool of blood and apparently the wound to the back of his head had been caused by a heavy, sharp object. It is believed that the abbot was struck on the head three times with a heavy bar.[9][10][11]

15 monks were present at the scene on discovery of the abbot's body and who alerted the police.[12] Three others were also found at the scene and who had been wounded but were still alive albeit dazed.[13] A spokesman for the Church, Boulos Halim, stated that, "In light of mysterious circumstances surrounding his death, the authorities were called and they are now carrying out their investigations". In the early days of the investigation it was not thought that the abbot's death had anything to do with Egypt's inter-communal violence.[14][15]

According to some sources, it was believed that the attack is "terrorist" or "criminal" related though early investigations revealed that the suspect was one of the monks that were present that day.[16] 400 workers and 150 monks workers have been questioned by police.[17][18]

Funeral and aftermath

Funeral rites were held for the abbot on Tuesday, 31 July 2018.[19] The funeral was attended by Pope Tawadros II.[20]

The monastery (some reports indicating the entire Coptic Church in Egypt[21]) has taken a decision to not take on any new brothers from 1 August 2018 as well as issued a series of 12 orders for the brotherhood including suspending all use of personal social media and refraining from speaking with the press on penalty of also being defrocked.[22] It is claimed the measures, which are being enforced over the course of a month from issue date, are not directly related to the death of the abbot however are there generally for increased adherence to obedience.[23]

It has also come to light that a monk had attempted suicide by cutting his arteries and trying to throw himself off one of the tallest parts of the monastery.[24]

On the 40 day commemoration of the abbot's repose, Pope Tawadros II is reported to have said that “We should look at it [the incident of the murder] as a wake-up call for all of us... the death of Bishop Epiphanius was like an alarm call,”.[25]

Brothers Isaiah, Faltaous, other monks and the ongoing investigation

Soon after the abbot's repose and funeral one monk namely Asheyaa El-Makary (also rendered as Isaiah Macarius,[26] Ash’eyaa al-Makary [27] or Ishaia’ al-Maqari[28]) was defrocked by the Coptic Church as a result of an investigation by the Church's monastic affairs committee following allegations he had committed actions unbecoming of the monastic life. The decision has been ratified by Pope Tawadros II. The monk has been required to revert to his name in the world i.e. Wael Saad Tawadros, has been ordered to live a life of repentance and could now be prosecuted in a civil court.[29] It was not clear at the time whether the decision to defrock the monk was related with the abbot's very recent repose under suspicious circumstances.[30] Sources have suggested that Isaiah had been defrocked some time before the murder of the abbot and Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Coptic Church, has asked himself why Isaiah should still be at the monastery in time for the murder despite having been expelled.[31]

Brother Isaiah has confessed to the murder of Anba Epiphanius after investigations pointed to him. It is said that some 60 investigators in addition to the Egyptian police had been analysing surveillance footage and concluded that Brother Isaiah was involved. It is understood that previously Brother Isaiah has been one of six monks who have constantly been at conflict with their Anba Epiphanius including disobeying his orders such as leaving the monastery without permission. By February 2018, Brother Isaiah had been ordered to depart the monastery in penance for a period of three years however other Brothers appealed to have him stay. He is alleged to have attempted suicide by drinking pesticide according to one source ahead of murdering the abbot[32] and according to others this took place after the murder. The monk was sent for treatment to the Damanhour public hospital.[33]

Another monk, Faltaous al-Makary (also rendered Valtos[34] or Philotheos[35]), has also been arrested in conjunction with the murder.[36] His secular name is Remon Ramsi Mansour[37] also rendered Raymond Rasmi Mansour[38].

Brother Faltaous had conspired with Isaiah to murder the abbot. It is believed that Faltaous stood watch whilst Isaiah struck the abbot over the head.[39] It is said of this monk that he had also attempted suicide by slashing his arteries and throwing himself off the fourth storey of the monastery buildings. The monk Faltaous has been hospitalised and arrested. Other monks apparently informed investigators that he had attempted suicide however there is suggestion that he is part of an internal faction comprising Isaiah and some other monks who had been opposed to the abbot's leadership and was then subjected to a revenge attack.[40][41]

Both of the suspects had joined the brotherhood in 2010 and are considered "isolationists" within a monastery that is already relatively insulated within the Coptic Church.[42] They have been trying to influence the leanings of the monastery from within and against the teachings of Matthew the Poor more towards those of Pope Shenouda III.[43]

Faltaous after his suicide attempt had returned to the monastery albeit with spinal, pelvis and leg fractures as well as burns.[44] It is reported that Faltaous was re-hospitalised on 21 August 2018 due to gangrene in his leg becoming degraded, as well as having entered a state of nervous shock preventing him from answering questions including to the investigators.[45]

On confession of the crime, Brother Isaiah's lawyer, Amir Nasif (also rendered Amir Nassif[46]), has declined to continue representing him.[47] As he stated, "The devil controlled the monk...It's impossible for me to participate in the killing of bishop Epiphanius".[48]

It was announced on 4 September 2018 that in the wake of the investigations another monk of the monastery has been suspended with yet another being permanently defrocked and expelled. The former brother, Yacoub al-Makary, was accused of having founded an irregular monastery and therefore it was decided by the Coptic Church to permanently defrock him forcing him to revert to his civilian name of Wahba Atallah.[49] It is unclear if brother Yacoub's defrocking is directly connected to the murder of the former abbot and the Church has revealed that he had established an irregular monastery and had taken funds privately from the aspiring monastics.[50]

Charges

Wael Saad and Remon Ramsi Mansour were charged through the Public Prosecution Office in Alexandria with the premeditated murder of the abbot. It is understood that the former bludgeoned the abbot over the head with a 90 cm steel pipe whilst the latter looked on.[51][52][53]

Possible motives

It has been speculated that some of the root cause of the tension between the suspected culprits and the former abbot were the latter's tendency to ecumenism and seeking reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church.[54]

Trial

The matter of the former abbot's murder has gone before the Damanhour (also rendered Damanhur) Criminal Court. On the case's opening on 23 September 2018 brother Faltaous is reported to have pleaded "not guilty" to the murder telling the judge, Gamal Toson, that he had previously confessed to it falsely due to being "under mental pressure" and he was "framed".[55][56]

The trial has been adjourned to 27 December 2018.[57]

Other monasteries of the Desert of Scetis

See also

External links

  • Official Website

References

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  • "About the Monastery". The Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great.

Coordinates: 30°17′29″N 30°28′34″E / 30.29139°N 30.47611°E / 30.29139; 30.47611

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